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The runners have become a familiar sight on the streets of Regina over the last four months. ((File/CBC))

Once they might have been running wild, but now they're running in a major U.S. marathon.

On Thursday,17members of the North Central Family Centre's running team wereon their way to Las Vegas.

Runner Matthew Pasqua, 21, said he's happy that kids from north-central Regina — sometimes known as a low-income area with a relatively high crime rate — are getting positive news coverage for a change.

"We are kind of making a name for ourselves," he said.

"We went from nobodies to someone. Like, everyone is going to know us now for who we are and what we do."

Four months ago, the Regina group started training for the Nevada city's marathon, which is being held on Sunday and is expected to attract 12,000 competitors from around the world.

Severalof the runners, who range in age from 13 to their early 20s, gave up drinking, smoking and in some cases property crimes when they began their marathon quest.

Since then, the orange T-shirt-clad crew's daily runs have become a familiar sight around town. With the arrival of cold weather, the T-shirts have given way to parkas, but the training has continued.

Some of the runners have traded in late nights of mischief for long hours at the track.

Ivan Amichand,who works at the family centre, said he has seen positive changes in the young people and their neighbourhood first-hand.

"Crime has been reduced in the north-central area," Amichand said. "Some of them have been offenders before, none of them have reoffended. All of them are doing some sort of a life skills, some of them have gone back to school. So wonderful kinds of positive changes in their lives are beginning to happen."

Real reward

On Thursday morning, they assembled before dawn to be met by TV and radio reporters. A pep talk from Mayor Pat Fiacco added to the excitement.

Leading the group is experienced marathoner Ben Hernando, who has promised to give the runners $100 US in shopping money each if they can beat the running-time goals set for them.

Hernando said from his perspective, the real reward is seeing them turn away from a negative lifestyle.

"Finishing a marathon is just running, but this is something that will change and it will give them self-discipline, self-esteem,"he said. "They will be proud of themselves, I'm pretty sure of that."